Completed 6/21/2013, Reviewed 6/22/2013
“Foundation’s Edge” presented a challenge: to read the first three books in the Foundation series. None of these were Hugo winners. They were published before the awards began. Other readers had advised me to read the first three as well. I thought it wouldn’t be too bad. All three books consisted of short stories, written independently for s.f. magazines before being collected into “novels.”
“Foundation” began well. I loved the first four stories. They dealt with the establishment of the Foundation, and its first several crises. I began to lose it in the fifth story. It was about the beginnings of the space traders. Somehow, the commerce aspect just didn’t grab me. I found the next two stories, told in “Foundation and Empire,” rather tedious as well. I think they fell into the category of many short stories I read: Introducing a lot of characters without much development, leaving me not caring about their plight. I also found that as the stories progressed, there was way too much exposition, extensive dialogues and monologues to reveal and move the plot.
“Second Foundation” consisted of two stories, one shorter story which was okay, and a longer story which was really great. The story of “The Mule” was interesting, imaginative, and full of action. The character development was much better. I cared about each character introduced. It was a great setup for beginning “Foundation’s Edge.”
“Edge” was the first of the Foundation novels to begin life as an actual novel, rather than as a collection of short stories. Asimov’s writing style was much tighter, more reminiscent of “The Gods Themselves” than the earlier Foundation stories. The characters are very well developed. I cared about all of them, even the bad guys.
Once again, Asimov relies on exposition to explain and move the plot, but somehow, here, it was much more interesting and seemed more appropriate. The relationships between the characters created a more natural environment for the lengthy descriptions and reveals. And Asimov’s writing style was clearly more mature, as I was able to follow and enjoy the dialogues and monologues. Unlike the earlier stories, the exposition really moved the plot forward.
It was interesting to see the role of women change throughout the series. The first three books were written in the 40s. “Edge” was from the 80s. Out of the first nine stories, there are only two female characters of interest, and they are in “Second Foundation.” In “Edge,” there are female characters throughout the story. They are still archetypal: bitch, goddess, lover, subservient wife. But they feel a little more naturally a part of the story. Whereas in “Second,” I had the feeling Asimov was trying to say, “Hey look, I can write about women! See, women can be in science fiction!”
There is one point that makes me wonder if my feelings about the book and acceptance of exposition isn’t tainted. The plot contains a search for the genesis, the search for Earth, the source planet. I always find genesis stories incredibly intriguing. This may have made me more willing to accept the expositions, rather than be bored by them. In my final analysis of this book, I’m going to assume that the book is better because it held me better than most of the preceding stories.
“Foundation’s Edge is a great sequel” to an uneven series. I give it 4 stars (out of 4 in my rating system, 5 being reserved for books that change my life). Where the crises in some of the earlier stories seemed forced, this crisis seemed a natural part of the Foundation universe. It was well worth getting through the first trilogy to read, understand and appreciate this book.
POST SCRIPT: “The Mule” from “Second Foundation” won a retro Hugo for 1946. I didn’t realize this until after I wrote this review.